First published in 2014
My rating: 5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads
Powerful and hard-hitting, "Fives and Twenty-Fives" follows a platoon of Marines at the start of the Iraq War. Their job is to repair potholes in the Iraqi roads. And those potholes always -- always -- contain bombs.
"Every inch of that place, every grain of sand, wanted desperately to kill us," one of our storytellers narrates.
This is a fantastic, gripping and raw look at what it was like to be among the first troops on the ground in Iraq, and it was penned by someone who was actually there himself.
The characters -- including a Mark Twain-obsessed Iraqi interpreter, a medic who later gets kicked out of the military, and a 2nd lieutenant who's in charge of a bunch of people but is only in his early 20s himself -- are dynamic and real. The author alternates perspectives, and the story switches between the soldiers' time in Iraq in 2006 and 2011 when we see how they've moved on with their lives and as well as the lasting toll the war has had on them.
I was especially taken with Dodge, an Iraqi university student forced by horrific circumstances to become an interpreter for the U.S. military. He carries around a battered copy of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" everywhere he goes and is crazy about American music. His story was the most interesting, the most tragic, and the most educational. You'll be rooting for Dodge (a.k.a. Kateb) and your heart will ache when you catch up with him in Tunisia during the Arab Spring, when he's desperately hoping to come to America but denied because of insufficient proof of his services to the military.
I picked up "Fives and Twenty-Fives" mainly because I'm an Air Force spouse and one of my goals this year is to read more military books. But I'm so, so glad I read this war novel. It was engrossing, disturbing, funny and heartbreaking, and -- even if you don't know much about the military -- you should read it!